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Long-term City Council members run for Mayor of Fairbanks

Chad Hutchison, left, with the University of Alaska, moderates the candidate forum for the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce. At the table are former and current Fairbanks City Council members, David Pruhs and Valerie Therrien. The forum was at Wedgewood Manor on Tuesday, August 30, 2022.
Chad Hutchison, left, with the University of Alaska, moderates the candidate forum for the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce. At the table are former and current Fairbanks City Council members, David Pruhs and Valerie Therrien. The forum was at Wedgewood Manor on Tuesday, August 30, 2022.

The Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce held a candidate forum to hear from David Pruhs and Valerie Therrien, running to be the next mayor for the City of Fairbanks.

Both Valerie Therrien and David Pruhs have served on the Fairbanks City Council – Pruhs twice and Therrien three times. Both said the police and fire departments were top concerns for the next mayor of Fairbanks.

Both would like to recruit more police officers, improve bias training, and fund enough Emergency Medical people to staff a third ambulance. Therrien says a recent schedule change has improved retention among police officers, but as Public Employees, they do not have a defined benefit in their retirement.

“Our police officers are really happy with a new schedule. The main problem with retention is the issue of their benefits. And I would work with the legislature to see if we could do something to change the benefit package for our police officers,” Therrien said.

Pruhs said he would try to recruit local Military Police officers.

“You have an incubation area at Fort Wainwight, Eielson, to start filling the ranks. We fund 44 police officers. We only have 35. I'm gonna work with HR. Let's go find more police officers,” Pruhs said.

An audience question focused on improving the Police Department as a workplace, noting that two former detectives are suing the City because of harassment. Pruhs said workplace harassment is unacceptable.

“If the lieutenants and captains cannot guarantee a good working environment for women, you change 'em out. No police officer, because of their sex or sexual orientation, should face any hostility in a work environment when they're providing public safety for us.”

Neither candidate mentioned the two lawsuits, but Therrien referenced the 2020 resignation of Chief Nancy Reeder after a little more than a year on the job.

“Unfortunately our first female police chief left; I think that there was a lot of animosity in having a woman police chief try to make changes in our police department. Fortunately, we've had a lot of training, um, recently with our police officers with regard to issues of harassment. And I think that that's going to help,” Therrien said.

These two candidates have worked together on committees and legislation. During a candidate-to-candidate question, they talked about their working relationship.

“We sat on the City Council for four years together,” Pruhs said. Twice a month, we would have a Finance Committee meeting together -- 7:00 AM. Me and you were the only two people who drank coffee; just us. Every morning I poured your coffee. Every time I went and got a refill, I made sure yours was refilled. In that four years, did I ever spill a drop?”

“No,” laughed Therrien.

“That's the fun part about being an elected official,” Pruhs continued. “The inner workings that you get to have with each other doesn't matter what your politics are. Everyone's a good person. And me and Valerie had some very special moments. So, it's an honor for me to be up here with her in this podium,” he said.

“I do feel that the city council works really well together,” said Therrien. “We respect each other's opinions. We might not agree all the time, but in the end we don't fight.

Therrien asked Pruhs if he were elected, would he continue hosting the community radio show “Problem Corner” on KFAR-AM. He has been the host since late 2016, and said he would continue.

When asked about new revenue, both candidates mentioned the SEMP reimbursement from Medicaid for ambulance service. The 2019 reimbursement is about a million dollars.

Pruhs said he doesn’t favor new taxes, but would like to see the reserve invested – the money that the City is required to keep liquid for emergencies.

“And we have to have a 20% reserve in the bank. And I've looked at our reserve and I say to myself, so you have to have different levels of risk that you can take your reserve and invest it in -- a money market fund, a Ginnie Mae (Government National Mortgage Association) -- things that give you a 2 to 4% rate of return, that have no risk, that you can go get this funding when you need it,” Pruhs said.

Therrien said even though the bed tax is a smaller portion of the City’s revenue, about 7%, it is coming in mostly in the summer.

“We have wonderful Northern lights and I applaud the visitor industry for increasing the time that visitors come here. It's not just summer, but it's the winter as well,” she said.

Both candidates favor Proposition 1 on the City ballot, to repeal the so-called “cap within the cap,” which limits the property mill rate in the City limits to 4.9. Proponents say it doesn’t allow the city to keep up with inflation, and has hindered hiring and retaining employees.

An audience question focused on relationships between the City and Alaska’s 20% Native Population.

“I would go to the Tanana Chiefs and I'd go to Doyon and I'd ask them to find me public safety officers. How do we integrate the indigenous people of Fairbanks into being employees for the city of Fairbanks? That's how you do it.

Therrien said at every City Council meeting, she calls attention to Native heritage with a Land Acknowledgement.

“…recognizing the leaders of our community that came before us. I think that we need to have meetings with our Native leaders, at least quarterly, if not every six months, in order to work together,” she said.

Pruhs said it was a mistake for Mayor Jim Matherly to step down as Chair of the City’s Diversity Council.

“The Diversity Council is a very important component of the City of Fairbanks. What we have to do is work on getting it fully staffed, all the appointments confirmed and having them meet,” he said.

“The Diversity Council has had a problem with vacancies and not having a quorum. And I think that the mayor stepping down as the chair probably gives a feeling to the members of the Diversity Council that they're not really important. And I would, as mayor, attend those Diversity Council meetings and ask for their input and support,” said Therrien.

The municipal election, including for Fairbanks City mayor, is Tuesday, October 4.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.